A strong finish to last year’s regular season propelled Winters Mill to its first golf county championship, and this year’s team is determined to prove 2016 wasn’t a fluke.
The Falcons know it won’t be easy, not with such a competitive balance around Carroll. At least that’s coach Kirk Kucharski’s mentality, even though he likes his team’s chances to contend — and defend.
“The target's on their back, but no one has even brought that up,” said Kucharski, back as coach after a one-year hiatus to coach WM’s varsity boys soccer team. “I mentioned it in a practice and some of the freshmen looked at me like they had no idea [Winters Mill] won counties last year. So I think they’re pretty focused on, it’s a new year and let’s do it again.”
Brandon Lesniak coached the Falcons last fall, and he had them tied with Liberty with 5-1 county records heading into the county tournament. Under the points system that determines the team champ each year, Liberty and WM had 10 points apiece before the tourney.
Brian Inglis, a freshman last fall, shot a 2-over 74 to win medalist honors, and Winters Mill edged the Lions to win the county championship.
(Lesniak said he couldn’t coach this fall because of a new job, and Kucharski said he felt drawn to return once he knew the position was open again.)
Inglis is back this season, one of six Times first-team all-county players returning from 2016. Century brings back sophomore Justin Wunder, Liberty has seniors Josh Kelly and Brian Sadler, South Carroll returns junior Ryan Stankewicz, and WM has Inglis and fellow sophomore Ethan Wolbert.
Sadler is the reigning Times Player of the Year after leading the Lions to a district title and a berth in the Class 2A-1A state tournament.
Winters Mill will be trying to make a return trip to states after not qualifying last fall while playing with the county’s bull’s-eye.
“I’m really excited because we still have a really young team,” said Brayden Bowie, WM’s lone senior. “It’s good for the future of the team as well as this year.”
Kucharski said Bowie is the Falcons’ vocal leader while Inglis is quieter but doesn’t hesitate to help a teammate with technique or form if need be. Winters Mill’s young roster is only that on paper, with several underclassmen who shaved some 30 strokes off the team total by season’s end.
“I think we realized in the first couple days of tryouts that we were a good team,” Bowie said. “But we didn’t really start playing like that until we realized, ‘Oh, we can score really well’ when we started playing our first couple matches. And we really turned it on at the end.”
Carroll’s seven teams get a chance to test their skills right away with Friday’s tournament at Oakmont Green Golf Club in Hampstead. Last year’s opener was held at Westminster National and won by Liberty, which edged Westminster by seven strokes. Stankewicz took medalist honors with a 76, while Inglis and Sadler tied for third at 79.
Friday’s tournament marks the starting point for the county’s golfers in 2017, two weeks before athletes from any other sport officially get going.
“We have one senior, one junior, and the rest are freshmen and sophomores,” Kucharski said. “The goal for this year is … it’s going to be hard to beat what we did last year, but just kind of maintain that and have the young guys just keep improving each year.”